2018-07-23 Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Ken Garrett

July 23 2018

Abstract of Dissertation - view complete dissertation

The theme of this project is spiritual abuse. For this project, spiritual abuse is defined as the use of deception, manipulation, and undue influence by a pastor or leader over a member of a church or Christian organization in order to appropriate the member’s material, physical, or emotional resources. The purpose of this study is to introduce the reader to the existence, characteristics, and leaders of spiritually abusive churches. Select biblical examples of spiritual abuse, Christian and secular academic sources, and a description of the basic personality types of spiritually abusive pastors, their churches, and their victims are presented. A description of both healthy churches and healthy pastors is provided, along with suggestions for how churches and pastors can prepare themselves to effectively care for survivors of spiritual abuse. The appendix includes an exegetical sermon on spiritual abuse from the book of Jude. An extended bibliographical list is provided for further reading on the subject of spiritual abuse, thought reform, and the development of a healthy pastoral theology relating to the care of spiritual abuse survivors.

Overview of the Project

This book is separated into chapters that present a biblical and secular survey of spiritual abuse, spiritually abusive leaders, and the abusive churches they lead. The marks of spiritually healthy churches and leaders are also presented, along with some suggestions for how such healthy churches and pastors can effectively care for the survivors of spiritual abuse who may seek to worship in a healthy church. In support of my arguments, I provide extensive interview data from spiritual abuse survivors and intersperse narrative accounts of my own experience of membership in an abusive church. This project is presented in nine chapters.

Chapter one introduces the phenomena of cults and aberrant religious groups in contemporary America and suggests a solution to the tension of referring to an otherwise orthodox, evangelical church as a cult. 9

Chapter two places the project in its theological context, surveying selected examples of spiritual abuse within the spiritual communities of the Old and New Testaments and noting the ethical/spiritual deficiencies of the spiritual abusers described in the text.

Chapter three describes the common, narcissistic disorder found in spiritual abusers, and suggests that such leaders are invariably, ultimately recognized by the content of their words, as considered over time.

Chapter four presents the concept of religious totalism, the mindset commonly found in those who join and remain in abusive churches. This chapter discusses the tensions encountered when a prospective member is challenged to make greater commitments to the church despite his private misgivings of doing so, and the crisis of faith that such challenges create. I will also explore the particular draw of a church or group with a totalist ideology to well-meaning, motivated Christians who simply wish to grow deeper in their faith experience.

Chapter five presents the primary indicators of a spiritually abusive church in eight areas, loosely correspondent with the eight criteria of thought reform developed by Robert Lifton. Through the narrative accounts of survivors of spiritually abusive churches, I will develop each indicator in a manner that will be readily understood by the reader. ( Lifton, Robert Jay. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Chapter six presents four conditions that have been found to be a consistent part of the decision that the member of an abusive church makes to finally leave the church—all in answer to the question, “Why do people leave abusive churches?”

Chapter seven describes the various emotional-spiritual wounds that the survivors of abusive churches often carry with them when they visit healthy churches. The areas of personal, marital, family, and professional loss, along with spiritual woundedness, are listed and described with a view to informing members and pastors of healthy churches of the condition of the survivors who may visit them.

Chapter eight describes the core motivations and character qualities of the safe pastor—one who acts as a tenderhearted servant, and not as the abusive over-lording pastor of the abusive church. The marks of a safe church are described, juxtaposed with the eight indicators of the abusive church.

Chapter nine presents my summary of the importance of identifying abusive churches, and of purposefully caring for the survivors of such churches. In this chapter, I pull together the overall content of the project to provide solid application points for both the pastor and the church member who desires to be effective in the restoration of abuse survivors to spiritual health. In the Appendix, I provide a sample sermon from the book of Jude that deals with the issue of abusive leaders in the Christian church.